Chasing down 305 in the last innings on a SuperSport Park pitch offering variable bounce and plenty of movement will remain a quixotic prospect for South Africa as they struggled to stumps with four wickets down on the fourth day of the first Test at Centurion on Wednesday.
Led by captain Dean Elgar’s defiant 52 not out, the Proteas closed on 94/4, which leaves them with 211 runs still to get on the final day for an unlikely victory. No team has ever reached 300 in the fourth innings of a Test at SuperSport Park.
Elgar has been at the crease for more than three hours, facing 122 deliveries, and has been unfazed by the many times he has been beaten, or struck on the body. He and a similarly phlegmatic Rassie van der Dussen (11) spent 102 minutes together defying the conditions and the venomous Indian attack, lifting the hopes of the home team and their supporters.
But India’s spearhead, Jasprit Bumrah, returned to the attack five overs before the close and struck a vital blow with just his fourth delivery. Van der Dussen misjudged a leave and Bumrah, who has been bringing the ball back sharply so often in this Test, slanted the delivery straight into off stump.
Nightwatchman Keshav Maharaj was then showing his mettle with the bat to reach 8 with just two balls remaining in the day when Bumrah cleaned him up with a tremendous yorker into the base of leg-stump.
India’s batters also struggled
South Africa have also lost the wickets of Aiden Markram (1), who was also trying to leave the ball but withdrew his bat too late and bottom-edged Mohammed Shami into his stumps, and Keegan Petersen (17), who was beaten by some late away movement by Mohammed Siraj and caught behind the wicket.
India’s batsmen were also exposed to the whole gamut of difficulties posed by the surface in their second innings, being bowled out for just 174 in 50.3 overs.
Opener and first-innings centurion Lokesh Rahul (23) and Cheteshwar Pujara (16) batted time and both survived for nearly two hours before both fell to Lungi Ngidi (10-2-31-2).
Ajinkya Rahane (20) and Rishabh Pant (34) decided attack was the way to go and both scored at around a run-a-ball, as did Ravichandran Ashwin (14) in a 35-run seventh-wicket stand with Pant.
Their positive approach threatened to really take the lead far beyond South Africa’s reach, but Kagiso Rabada returned to wrap up the tail and finish with 4/42 in 17 hard-working overs.
Marco Jansen completed a satisfactory debut with 4/55 in 13.3 overs.